The 12,000 residents of one hilly Medellin neighborhood used to climb the equivalent of 28 stories to get from the city center to their homes. But an arduous 30-minute walk has been transformed into a five-minute ride, with the installation of an urban escalator system.*
"This escalator represents a celebration for all of us as a city," said Mayor Salazar Jaramillo on Monday, when he officially opened the escalators to the public in the Comuna 13 neighborhood. "This should be a symbol of city transformation and peace for Comuna 13."
The escalator is divided into six stages and cost about US$6.7 million to construct.
The mayor said innovations like the escalator are turning the Colombian city into a showcase for leading urban planning ideas, and added that officials from Rio de Janeiro had already contacted him about doing something similar in the hillside favelas there.
Press reports call Comuna 13 one of Medellin's poorest and most violent neighborhoods. Which makes it ripe for transformation, according to city officials.
"In these slums, we have to make an important change," said Rafael Nanclares, Medellin's secretary of transportation and transit, speaking on the phone to Transportation Nation. "We have to make opportunities for them." Earlier this week, Nanclares tweeted a photo of a banner hung on the side of a building that read: "What pride! We live in the only neighborhood in the world with public escalators."
Nanclares said the escalators would make it easier for residents to get to school and work. A major goal of the escalator is to connect Comuna 13 with the economic center of the city--both literally and figuratively. "It's a way to give presence to people who don't have a presence," he said. The ambitious project is as much statement of support to an overlooked community as it is transportation improvement as he sees it.
Carlos Pardo, a consultant for the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), pointed out that the city has been working to improve mobility for its poorest residents. "This escalator is part of a broader range of initiatives in Medellin," he said. The city has recently inaugurated a bike share program and a bus rapid transit system. Parts of the city also have a cable car-- but the necessary distance between stations made an escalator a better choice for Comuna 13.
More photos are below.
*An earlier edition of this post quoted the Medellin government as claiming this is the first urban escalator system as transit. As many readers point out, Hong Kong's has an urban escalator system, which opened in 1993.
(with reporting by Alex Goldmark)